MONUMENT • It’s likely that some Lewis-Palmer School District 38 students who don’t live within the district will have to go elsewhere next August.
And it’s highly probable that some D-38 middle and elementary school students will have classes in portable buildings in the 2019-20 academic year.
The five-member Board of Education is considering these and other options to address expected enrollment growth in the wake of voters rejecting two ballot measures last month by about a two-thirds margin.
Lewis-Palmer Middle School is at capacity, and Bear Creek Elementary is close to being full, Cheryl Wangeman, assistant superintendent, told the board at a work session this week.
Under state law, public school districts must open enrollment to students from other districts who want to “choice” in, said D-38 Superintendent Karen Brofft. If there’s no room in the grade level in the school a family wants to choice into, the district can deny the application.
With rapid population growth in northern El Paso County, district officials expect some grades at some schools to be at capacity this fall.
“Just because we’re opening the window, doesn’t mean we’re begging for kids to come,” Brofft said. “Decisions will be made on the fact that some schools will be closed to open enrollment.”
The district’s choice students became an issue in the weeks leading up to the Nov 6 election in which D-38 sought a $36.5 million bond authorization and a $1 million mill levy override to build a new elementary school, convert Bear Creek Elementary back to a middle school, and make safety and security improvements at all schools, including adding more staff.
Critics said that the district was catering to too many students from other districts and should focus on addressing the needs of the students living within its boundaries.
Official enrollment figures aren’t yet available for this school year, but last school year, D-38 had 688 choice students out of 6,703 students, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Nearly 400 were from neighboring Academy School District 20, and 171 from Douglas County.
Opponents to the ballot initiatives also said they believed the district would be overbuilding, citing expansion plans the district’s sole charter school is working on. Monument Academy wants to open a high school at highways 83 and 105 in Monument, and expand its existing elementary and middle schools.
D-38 opened an online exchange on Wednesday, inviting parents and community members to provide input on: “What are some important things we need to learn from the outcome of the recent bond and mill levy override election?”
Responses will be accepted through Dec. 16, at https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#127607201, or by text or mobile application. Identities will be kept confidential, and respondents can share their thoughts and view other responses.
The lack of information on D-38 ballot proposals in the Ballot Information Book, or Blue Book, summarizing election issues, hurt the district, board members said, as did public confusion about the proposals.
Regardless, “Nothing’s changed (in terms of needs), other than we lost for whatever reasons,” board member Chris Taylor said.
The D-38 board first needs to agree on short-term solutions and then examine what to do for the long term. Nearly 1,000 more students will be enrolled just from within the district in the next five years, according to growth projections. Enrollment is up 219 students this school year over 2017, to 6,922 students.
Wangeman identified a ballpark figure of $8 million available from various reserve, capital and general funds that potentially could be used to address needs such as four additional classrooms at Lewis-Palmer Middle School.
About 40 current “choice” students could be displaced from the middle school in the fall, officials said. But that still won’t solve the lack of seats.
“Ultimately, this is a real dilemma,” said board member Mark Pfoff.
Portables would have to be placed on sidewalks in front of Lewis-Palmer Middle School, Brofft said, due to plumbing, security and cost.
“I’m sorry to say there’s consequences that are now in front of us,” Brofft said. “They’re a reality. A portable is not a great solution because it’s a bad investment, yet that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
The District Accountability and Advisory Committee recommended the board start working now on another bond proposal for the November 2019 ballot, said board member Tiffiney Upchurch.
Pfoff said he wouldn’t support doing that unless it was just for building a new elementary school, which would run in the neighborhood of $30 million.
“If we do the same thing a year later, we’re going to get the same results,” he said. “Two-thirds of the community wasn’t interested in what we were proposing. I don’t want to see yet another failed initiative.”
Morale of teachers and other staff is another concern, said board member Theresa Phillips.
Pfoff said he’d like board members to visit teachers to let them know they are valued, and hear their opinions on the failed ballot measures and how the district can move forward.
The board is scheduled to take up the issues again at the Dec. 17 meeting.
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